Category Archives: Editorials

Team Prayers

One of DC’s mid-level super-hero titles has been the focus of a fair bit of discussion online as of late. Plummeting sales figures have prompted industry pundits to ponder the problem with The Brave and the Bold. It’s been a critical darling of many reviewers, and it was launched to a bit of fanfare, especially given the involvement of two of comics’ stalwart talents: writer Mark Waid and artist George Perez. The series had a lot going for it. Seemingly separate from current DC continuity, it’s an accessible read, embracing a more traditional approach to super-hero storytelling. Comics readers tiring from endless events and crossovers could find relief in Waid’s words and Perez’s pencils. Those who thought the super-hero genre had grown too dark — especially DC’s take on the heroes, in light of its Identity Crisis series, with its incorporation of rape, betrayal and ethical breaches into the plot — were offered a kinder vision of the publisher’s iconic characters.

With the latest sales numbers coming in at only a little more than 39,000 copies (down from almost 100,000 for the first issue), it seems a given that The Brave and the Bold might be destined for the same fate as Marvel’s recent attempt to relaunch a team-up title: cancellation. There’s no sign of it from DC yet, though. The fourteenth issue is solicited for June release, with popular artist Scott Kolins stepping in to take over for Perez’s replacement, Jerry Ordway. The series trudges on despite speculation about its sustainability.

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Underdogs and Overreactions

The comic-book industry was agog at the news last week of Jerry Siegel’s family’s success in its legal fight to regain some copyright control over Superman and some contents of the classic Action Comics #1. Others have commented at length about the decision and what it means for comics, so there’s really no need for me to repeat what’s been stated eloquently (or in the case of some message-board posters, rudely and ignorantly). Besides, the story is far from over. It’s highly doubtful that Time Warner would capitulate in a battle over such a lucrative cash cow from distant Krypton. An appeal is no doubt in the works, regardless of whether or not the appellants have a spandex-clad leg to stand on.

The Siegel ruling is certainly historic for the world of comics, and it may be an important precedent beyond our little corner of pop culture. While creators’ rights have been a topic of discussion for industry insiders and enthusiasts of our little medium for a couple of decades now at least, it’s a notion that’s perhaps never been more prominent in the collective consciousness of Western culture. It was only a few months ago that the Writers Guild of America strike came to end, and that job action impacted just about every household in North America. It wasn’t in any real way that matters, but the public became away of creator rights as a broader principle.

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Mind the Currency Gap

It finally happened. Last week, DC Comics announced it would revise the pricing of its comics to better reflect the value of the Canadian dollar as compared to its weakening U.S. counterpart. The publisher is just, oh, six or seven months behind currency markets and its biggest competitor, Marvel Comics. Of course, Marvel’s current Canadian price is a shade higher than the American cover price, even though the dollar here in the Great White North is stronger than the Yankee Greenback. (This is an issue Eye on Comics has explored in the past. You can find previous articles on the subject here and here.)

So DC’s announcement, though incredibly late, is welcome news for retailers and customers, yes? Well, not really.

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Will the Real Brian Bendis Please Stand Up?

Brian Michael BendisBrian Michael Bendis. He’s been a cornerstone of Marvel’s creative efforts for the past several years, even serving as the single most vital creator in the publisher’s stable of talent as the 21st century got underway. He remains a cornerstone of Marvel’s comics, and there’s been no sign that the professional pairing is going to change in any way in the near future. There was a time when any mention of his name in connection with a new project had me chomping at the bit to check it out. While I still read his work today, I haven’t been really excited about Bendis’s comics in some time, though.

The bloom is off his particular rose, but the question arises: why? Have I just moved on to focus on other voices? Has his work grown repetitive? Has it weakened? I find it difficult to choose just one answer, and I think that perhaps they all apply. To hash it all out, perhaps a subjective examination of recent issues of Bendis’s current ongoing projects will be of help.

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Steve Gerber, 1947-2008

It seems to me that Steve Gerber was even more fearless than the multitude of super-heroes and surreal adventurers he wrote about over the course of his career in comics.

As has been widely reported already, Gerber died Sunday in a Las Vegas hospital as a result of pulmonary fibrosis. Others have written at length about his career in comics and the important contributions he made to the medium and industry, both creatively and philosophically, when it came to creators’ rights. That at the age of 60, he was still writing regularly for the biggest publishers in the North American market during a time when assignments tend to be consolidated with a group of younger, “hotter” talent is a testament to his skill, vision and the respect he earned.

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No Strike Zone

A big name in the world of comics publishing arose in the ongoing drama of the Writers Guild of America strike last week. Marvel Studios emerged as one of a few production companies that signed side deals with the WGA, ensuring its movie-production efforts in 2008 and beyond would continue uninterrupted. Given how popular opinion seems to be solidly behind the picketing writers, it’s likely a good move on Marvel’s part, not only from a business perspective but also in terms of public relations, both within and outside the industry.

The move by Marvel Studios was applauded by several comics-industry observers, and understandably so. I found the announcement to be rather intriguing not for what it means for the development of future Marvel film projects, but instead about how it could give rise to a philosophical conundrum within the Marvel corporate structure.

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Catch a Falling All-Star

The mercury has begun to drop, and in my neck of the woods, we’ve even been issued the occasional frost warning in the evenings from time to time. Summer’s over, so many of us bid adieu to barbecues, bathing suits and sunburns. This past summer was also significant in the world of comics — and specifically to DC Comics — because summer 2007 was the announced release date of a much-anticipated project designed to light the comics sales charts on fire: All-Star Wonder Woman.

[…] It seems someone missed her cue. A-hem. I said, “All-Star Wonder Woman!”

Hmm, apparently, she’s a no show.

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Settle Down

I read with some interest the details of the settlement agreement between Harlan Ellison and Fantagraphics Inc., bringing to an end the former’s defamation and “right-to-publicity” lawsuit against the publisher over two publications: The Comics Journal Library 6: The Writers and the forthcoming book Comics as Art: We Told You So. I’m not a lawyer; I defer to the assessments and judgments of legal matters to my barrister/solicitor girlfriend and law professor/scholar brother. However, I do spend some amount of time pouring over court documents in my capacity as a crime/courts reporter for a daily newspaper. It is from that perspective that I write the following about the Ellison/Fantagraphics settlement:

It’s weird.   

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Mike Wieringo, 1963-2007

For me, it all started with The Flash #80 in late 1993.

I was never much of a Flash fan despite my love for DC’s super-hero comics ever since the late 1970s. I hadn’t been reading Mark Waid’s much-lauded run on the Scarlet Speedster’s title. If memory serves, it was Alan Davis’s cover artwork that drew my attention to the book, but it was Mike Wieringo’s vision of the fleet-footed hero within that held it. His original, lantern-jawed interpretation of the Flash may not have been consistent with the sleekness inherent in a speedster character, but it was striking and attractive. Wieringo brought a mythic, larger-than-life quality to the character that was tempered by the grounded characterization Waid provided. Wieringo also did an amazing job of capturing the speed and energy of the title character. Both he and Waid brought a renewed sense of wonder and traditional comics storytelling to bear in a series that still had plenty of appeal for readers looking for a little more depth from the genre as well. Wieringo wasn’t on the title for that long, not really, but he left a mark on it that’s undeniable. His short stint earned him a place among the most favored artists to handle the character, and it quickly established him as a star talent in the comics industry.

One of Wieringo’s biggest claims to fame was co-creating Bart Allen, AKA Impulse. It’s actually a bit disconcerting how soon after Bart’s life as a character came to an end in a two-dimensional world that his co-creator followed suit in the real world. Sure, by the time Bart’s number was up, he’d become the Flash after a few years as Kid Flash, but the character was never more interesting or loved than when he was Impulse.

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Our Worlds at War

War, what is it good for? Well, selling comic books, apparently.

War is the new black for super-hero comics these days. Marvel earned its strongest sales this century with Civil War in 2006-2007, and the publisher has developed a new brand for its lesser-known cosmic characters with its Annihilation titles, featuring space-faring heroes embroiled in armed conflicts as well. Marvel’s also grabbed fan attention with the recent launch of its latest event-driven crossover, World War Hulk, and it has just wrapped up the story of the Inhumans’ retaliation against mankind in Silent War. Marvel’s chief competitor, DC Comics, has embraced war as a dominant motif in its super-hero line as well. It’s easy to see in such titles as World War III, Amazons Attack and last week’s Green Lantern Sinestro Corps Special #1. It’s hardly a brand-new phenomenon either. Alien civilizations rallied behind bitter planetary enemies Rann and Thanagar in 2005, the Fantastic Four usurped control of a Balkan nation in 2003 and the Authority overthrew the U.S. government with its 2004-2005 Revolution. War and invasion have proven to be vital themes in super-hero comics today. And it’s no wonder — the industry and the genre are just proving to be true to their roots. After all, one could argue that without war, the genre just wouldn’t have taken hold in pop culture when it first took off seven decades ago. But are the super-hero comics of today holding true to form, repeating a familiar pattern? Or is the incorporation of war in the genre today something different than we’ve seen before?

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Compound Words

As a news reporter and former public-relations professional, I have a special interest in the craft (or lack thereof) of marketing efforts in the comics industry. And as the producer/writer of a comics-related website, plenty of publishers’ news releases make their way into my e-mail inbox. An unusual but clever one found its way to me this afternoon, and I was impressed with the initiative demonstrated with this piece of comics marketing.

Earlier today, news broke of the scientific discovery in Serbia of a mineral that just happens to share the same chemical composition as Kryptonite (as suggested in the recent, Bryan-Singer directed film, Superman Returns). A mineral expert’s research uncovered the coincidental synchronicity between science and science-fiction. The Associated Press reported that the material — which will be named Jadarite — is white, powdery and definitely not radioactive. The AP story made the rounds throughout the day Tuesday and will no doubt grace the pages of many a newspaper around the world Wednesday.

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Gratuitous Insults

I pass the time during lulls at work with a good novel. There are a few TV series that I follow religiously every week, never wanting to miss a new episode. And there’s nothing like going to the movies and taking in a flick on the big screen. But my favorite storytelling medium, obviously, is the comic book/graphic novel. Unfortunately, fans of the medium are saddled with an unfortunate stigma. You’ve seen it on The Simpsons in the form of the Comic Book Guy. You’ve seen the extreme fans at comics conventions as well, and those whose battle with unfortunate personal hygiene is a Never-Ending Battle in and of itself. The stereotype of the pathetic Comic Geek stems, sadly, from a certain fragment of reality. It’s really frustrating, though, when a major player in the medium and industry contributes to the preconception of the comics consumer as a horny, sexually frustrated basement dweller.

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Other Casualties

As I type this, lots of both first-print covers of Captain America #25 are selling on eBay for 50 bucks or more. Say what you will about speculators and comics retailing, but the success of the “Death” of Captain America — both in terms of sales and publicity — is undeniable. And from a personal perspective, I’m pleased to see that the new storyline boasts glimmers of real strengths, of being sustainable beyond its connections to Civil War. Once the dust settles, it’s a safe bet Cap #25 — with its two first-print editions and already announced second printing — will clock in with impressive sales numbers, perhaps even topping 200,000 copies, I’ll wager.

Retailers should be celebrating, as Marvel ensured strong availability of this surprise event with a generous overprinting, and mainstream media coverage reportedly drove non-comics readers to direct-market specialty stores (rather than big-box bookstores) in search of the “landmark” issue. However, I wonder if Marvel’s timing and marketing of the Death of Cap wasn’t something of a misstep. The bullets that struck Cap down struck some other Marvel heroes as well.

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Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better…

Probably the biggest commercial success — in terms of risk, ambition and presentations — in the world of comics in 2006 had to be the Top Shelf Productions release of its hardcover, slipcase-edition of Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s Lost Girls. But in terms of satisfying retailers and the super-hero genre fanbase of the direct-market industry, Marvel’s Civil War probably reigned supreme, racking up strong sales and boosting sales of the publisher’s other ongoing titles significantly with crossover issues. However, Civil War has been plagued with problems over the past few months. At first, what bothered people, and especially retailers, were the repeatedly delays in its publishing schedule, which impacted some of the publisher’s strongest selling ongoing series. By the midway point of the event, though, complaints about those delays were eclipsed by another concern: inconsistent storytelling. Events in the Civil War limited series conflicted with information presented in key tie-in stories, and many feel that two of the most prominent players in the drama — Reed Richards and Iron Man — aren’t behaving in a manner that’s consistent with their personalities and history.

But there’s good news. There is a super-hero civil war that avoided many of the same pitfalls. There’s a story, released in the same timeframe as Civil War, that didn’t require crossovers, that didn’t require massive change and didn’t alter classic characters in implausible ways. In other words, DC did it better; you just didn’t realize it.

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Big-Screen Synergy

We comic readers always take notice when our four-color heroes make the leap from the pages of the medium we love to the big screen. DC and Marvel have had a lot of success in recent years, with comics flicks seeming to top the wish lists of movie producers. Obviously, one of the reasons the more iconic heroes connect so well with moviegoers is that they remember them fondly from their youth. From comics at camp to cartoons on Saturday morning, millions know these characters and are willing to plunk down cold, hard cash to reconnect with those imaginary friends from their youth. Given the power of that nostalgia, the new movie incarnations of those fondly remembered characters end up being simplified, adapted and sometimes reverted to forms they’d shed decades before. As a result, comics publishers often scramble to bring back old ideas and circumstances so the masses can find something they recognize in the comics of today.

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